And the answer is . . . (Or, “Thank you, Gertrude . . . , Thank you, Rilke”)

P1020047Saturday, November 30, 2013.  When I was preparing for the Camino, I was making lists of things to take on the trip, partially based on the books I was reading about and by other Camino pilgrims.  “Take something meaningful from home . . . ” said one.  Well, I looked lovingly at the pocket goddesses Neil has bought for me over the years, bronze woman-shapes that fit in your hand.  They are so special and adorn my bedroom dresser.  But the constantly growing awareness of weight in my backpack required that I discard any notion of taking a small bronze goddess who weighed at least a pound.

In close proximity to the goddesses I spotted this.  A light-weight wooden star, created by a Vermont artist, Meta Strick, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at an Artisan Fair in Manchester, Vermont about 10 years ago.  I had purchased many of her little goodies, all with calligraphy sayings or words on them.  “Create!”  “Solitude!”  “Artist working HERE”.  And this favorite from Gertrude Stein:  What is the question?”

It seemed a perfect thing to take, especially since I had to keep trying to answer my friends, who asked, “Why are you going?”  “What made you decide to do this?”  And I continued to say, “I saw the movie, The Way.  Otherwise, I have no idea.”  As I’ve written on this website previously, the typical response I got was, “Oh, you’ll know soon enough (or when you get there . . . or when you are in Santiago, etc.).”  I see that I still have no ability or desire to come up with an answer.  There is a finality to answers, some of which we must have, and others for which we should not even search.  I have a relative who always says, “The TRUTH is . . . ” and then pontificates.  What that relative says is most often nowhere close to the truth.  There are many versions of the truth, but perhaps for things like “1 + 1 = 2”, and even then, perhaps a mathematician could try to dispute this truth.  But that’s for another century.  I have no interest in it.

I’m grateful for every minute, every second, of my Camino experience.  The exhaustion, frustration, curiosity, exhilaration, and everything in between were gifts, pure and simple.  I gave those gifts to myself.  The Camino gave them to me.  My partner and children, sisters and friends gave them to me. My body gave them to me.  And everyone with whom I spoke on the trail, every person who said, “Buen Camino” to me as they passed me or as I passed them, gave these gifts to me.  But I asked for no answers from any of them . . . and gave them none in return.

My conclusion, at least for myself, is that there are often only the questions, whether we like it or not.  The question itself encourages contemplation, consideration, communion with one’s Self.  As Rainer Maria Rilke writes so exquisitely . . . live the questions now.

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet

I’ve thought quite a bit about writing a “closure” piece, both while I was on the Camino and since I’ve returned home.  What I know more clearly now than I ever have before is that at least for this experience, the “closure” is learning (yet again) to remain open.  To find silence whenever possible.  To stop the brain from reeling in the chaos of daily life.  To arrange for part of a day where there is nothing to do but sit with myself.

The “answer”, I’ve learned, is not to look too hard for an answer . . . the questions, the silence between questions, and all the bits and pieces of this experience are held together in a sort of snow-globe-container with wide boundaries.  I can shake it up, watch the details of my Camino memories, or my daily life, for that matter, float down in front of me, around me. The joy, determination, exhaustion, sense of majesty and accomplishment just make me shine with gratitude, make me want to go back and do it again . . .not with a plan to “do it better”, but rather with pure desire to be on the path once more.

About Woodswoman

Writer, educator, psychotherapist, woodswoman. Crave solitude and just walked the Camino de Santiago from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Long-term partner, Neil. Three grown kids, one traveling the world for a couple of years (see, and two in other countries . . . Thailand and Texas! One Golden Retrievers and two cats. Avid reader, looking for 10 more hours in each of my days.
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7 Responses to And the answer is . . . (Or, “Thank you, Gertrude . . . , Thank you, Rilke”)

  1. So well said, I love your analogy of the snow globe! Blessings for the New Year!


  2. mary ann says:

    Very nice. Beautiful writing filled with depth and wonder.
    Mary Ann

  3. BRILLIANT! Absolutely brilliant. A beautifully written, important message that is very timely for me just now, especially at the start of a grand new year. Blessings to you!

  4. David and Peggy Lindstrom says:

    An especially lov ely, reflective posting Joannah.

  5. Pat McCandless says:

    How serendipitious your blog, Joannah, at this time when I’m not even sure what the questions are regarding the process of watching my mother decline as the medical and care professions fall short of caring for her as the should. As I believe they should! The grieving begins long before the death of a loved one, when death is so unkindly slow. As I’m sure you know in your deepest heart. I tell myself, there are no shoulds. . . Dying just happens. But it doesn’t help the anger.

    I’ll print out your blog and read it often. It offers . . . a way. (How ironic.)


    • Woodswoman says:

      Dear Pat: I do know where you are. You are aware that I watched my mother decline for 17 years, very well cared for, but not allowed to let her life go. I hope things are on a more even keel by the end of the summer, and I’m so happy you will be accompanying me to Italy in September. May Ann be at peace or at rest, on this earth or not, at that point. And I hope for the shoulds and anger to dissipate, leaving you with some comfort remembering the long life your mom has had. And she IS still here. My thoughts are with you.

  6. Judy scheig says:

    Isn’t it lovely how long the feeling lasts that you can leap tall buildings in a single bound? Such a great accomplishment!

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